Leading teaching and learning together: the role of the middle tier

16 February 2023


©STiR Education

A new book from IIEP-UNESCO and Education Development Trust delves into the critical – yet often neglected – middle tier of education systems. Professionals situated in this space have the unique opportunity to understand the real-world issues teachers face and can help develop and deliver feasible solutions for whole-system change. 

Education systems worldwide share the simple goal of preparing, nurturing, and growing the minds of future generations so that every person can fulfill their full potential. Achieving this is more complex – education systems are intricate, with many layers, actors, and competing priorities. When thinking about how to improve learning outcomes, teachers quickly come to mind. How can they be supported to deliver quality education? 

IIEP-UNESCO and Education Development Trust have been exploring the role of the middle tier in supporting teachers instead of focusing primarily on only school or high-level interventions. Now, a new publication outlines the key functions carried out by those actors to improve teaching and learning and reflects on how to maximize their role and effectiveness. 

What is the middle tier?

Simply put, the middle tier refers to the education actors and structures at the middle of education systems, positioned between schools and state-level policy-making. Actors can be district education officers, network facilitators, supervisors, or teacher mentors – and they play a critical role in connecting all the pieces as they act as mediators of new policies on the frontline, e.g., in classrooms, and as instructional leaders who work across schools to support the improvement of teaching and learning. 

The new book, Leading teaching and learning: the role of the middle tier, opens new avenues for system transformation and promising policy ideas for strengthening the middle tier, which does not require major system changes. It also offers policy-makers concrete recommendations on how to recast teaching as a more collaborative profession. 

Teaching should be further professionalized as a collaborative endeavour, where teachers are recognized for their work as knowledge producers and key figures in educational and social transformation.
UNESCO’s Futures of Education Report 

Finding solutions for the global learning crisis 

The book is timely as the quality of learning remains one of the most important challenges facing education policy-makers. While vast gains have been made in access to education, the world continues to grapple with a learning crisis – and a teaching crisis is at its core. Many forces determine teachers’ effectiveness. One relatively neglected but significant factor is the nature of the professional support that teachers receive locally. 

Faced with this challenge, common questions include: how can we provide teachers with spaces where they can share, collaborate, and problem-solve together and with other professionals? How can we build a learning system that supports and enhances the professionalism of teachers and head teachers, and improve teaching and learning outcomes? 

The middle tier of education systems may offer a unique opportunity to facilitate collaboration, broker knowledge, scale innovations, and provide instructional direction to school-level practitioners.

Circling the globe, the middle tier may look very different from one country to the next. However, there are many commonalities and common traits among the most impactful instructional leaders, as the research shows. The book is based on five case studies where there were promising examples of middle-tier reforms: Delhi (India), Jordan, Rwanda, Shanghai (China), and Wales. These diverse studies offer an inside look at the potential of the middle, with insights and lessons that could benefit other education systems. 

Watch the book launch webinar series

Part 1
Lessons learned: How can the middle tier improve teaching and learning?

Part 2
From policy to implementation: What does it take for instructional leaders at the middle tier to be successful?